For Pete's Sake / Season Review

Season review: Ernst Tanner’s very good first season, part two

Photo: Rob Simmons

Last week, I started to examine Ernst Tanner’s first season in charge of the Union.

Today, I continue to — with the benefit of hindsight (and the glorious 20/20 vision that comes with it) —  evaluate Tanner’s first season in charge, move by move.

Again, for some of the moves, there will be a quote from the report card I wrote for Tanner’s first offseason back in February.

Signing Kai Wagner from Würzburger Kickers (3.Bundesliga, Germany): A+. A move that inspired a massive amount of skepticism from fans and media proved to be Tanner’s savviest signing. With the expectation entering the offseason that Union Academy product Matt Real would seize the starting job, many wondered why Tanner moved for a slightly older player from the German third division. Wagner ended up being a revelation at left back, fitting perfectly into the Union’s tactical plan and finishing tied for third on the team with eight assists — from left back! (Not to belabor the point on Ray Gaddis, but the Union’s right back has nine assists in his entire eight-season MLS career.) Look for the Union to flip Wagner for a big profit either this offseason or next.

What I said: Maybe [Wagner] and Real solve the left back black hole — for now, though, it remains the biggest question mark on the roster. (Grade: Who?)

Signing Marco Fabian from Eintracht Frankfurt: C+. The signing many (myself included) called the biggest in Union history ended up being a mixed bag. When he played, he had moments of real brilliance, finishing second on the team with seven goals (.50 goals per 90 minutes). But he was too often out of the lineup, either through injury, suspension (by either the league or the team), or because Jim Curtin preferred Brenden Aaronson and Jamiro Monteiro at the 10. Although Fabian likely will not return to the team next year, Tanner gets credit for structuring Fabian’s contract so that the Union will pay nothing to get out of his deal (as the Union have a team option for 2020). The search for a permanent No. 10 continues…

What I said: [T]here’s risk here, as Fabian’s last few seasons have been marred by injury and an inability to get matches. But the upside is massive — Fabian could be a legitimate star in MLS and seems like exactly what this team needed in the middle of the park. (Grade: Much rejoicing.)

Trading C.J. Sapong to Chicago Fire for up to $450k in allocation money: A. Yes, Sapong went on to lead a bad Fire side with thirteen goals, but the Zen striker’s time was up in Philadelphia. The return was excellent for a player on the last year of his deal; Sapong’s departure allowed for the emergence of Kacper Przybylko (and the cash helped bring in the next player on this list).

What I said: Sapong’s 2018 season was a nightmare, and he faced starting the season behind [Sergio] Santos, Fafa Picault, Cory Burke, and David Accam on the forward depth chart. (Grade: A+ and fifty gold stars.)

Signing Jamiro Monteiro on loan from FC Metz (Ligue 2): A. Monteiro didn’t arrive until after the season started, but the dynamic midfielder immediately changed the Union’s season for the better. Monteiro fit perfectly with Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin in midfield, providing both defensive bite and an ability to drive play in the attacking end. His nine assists was good for second on the team despite playing only two-thirds of the available minutes in the MLS season. Although Monteiro looks unlikely to return to the Union in 2020, his contribution to the best season in club history won’t be forgotten soon. Tanner deserves tremendous credit for identifying exactly what his team needed and bringing that player in.

Trading David Accam to Columbus Crew and Derrick Jones to Nashville SC: A. Tanner got good value for two players who didn’t have a future with the Union. Accam was the Union’s leading goalscorer in the early going, but he wasn’t a great fit in Tanner’s tactical system. The deal allowed the Union to move his $1.25 million salary off the books and bring in $450,000 in MLS funny money for a player who only managed two goals in for the Crew. Jones, similarly, was never able to turn his prodigious talent into consistency on the pitch, and all parties agreed that he needed a change in scenery. (Jones suffered an ankle fracture in May with Nashville, but returned to score a goal in the USL playoffs.) Between Sapong, Accam, and Jones, Tanner pulled in over a million in allocation money. Not too bad.

Signing RJ Allen as a free agent and acquiring Joe Bendik from Columbus Crew: B. Two perfectly fine bottom-of-the-roster moves for players who never appeared for the Union. Both players have a good chunk of MLS experiences (52 starts for Allen and 173 for Bendik) that made them dependable reserves at positions where the roster lacked a dependable reserve (right back and goalkeeper).

Signing Andrew Wooten on a free transfer from Sandhausen (2.Bundesliga): C. Tanner made a rare (for the Union) splash into the summer transfer market, bringing in an American striker from the German second division. Wooten was expected to play a big part for the Union in the second half of the season, filling a gap on the depth chart left by Cory Burke (stuck in Jamaica), Sergio Santos (injuries and inconsistency), and Fafa Picault (not really a striker). However, the 30-year-old striker failed to settle in Philadelphia, starting just five games (including playoffs) and adding zero goals. Worse, Wooten’s style of play appeared to be duplicative of Przybylko, suggesting that it will be difficult to get both players on the field at the same time. Wooten will be back with the team this year on a substantial salary (guaranteed compensation of nearly $600,000 per year), but early signs from 2019 suggest that the Wooten signing might be Tanner’s first big miscalculation.

What I said: At 29, Wooten is in the prime of his career, and his scalding-hot stretch for Sandhausen demonstrates that he’s the kind of striker capable of putting together truly great runs of form… [but] maybe Wooten is a journeyman who got hot at the right time — just before his contract expired.

7 Comments

  1. I really don’t know why Wooten was so timid out there. He literally passed on so many shooting opportunities. Really hoping he gets himself sorted in the offseason. He’s another big body out there we could use.

  2. 1. You have an error in this article, because you said that Wagner was 2nd on the team with 8 assists, and also that Monteiro was second on the team with 9 assists. One of those needs to be corrected.

    2. You really think Wagner will get flipped this year? Strikes me as too soon, unless he’s really eager to go back home. Also, I could see him possibly playing in 2. Bundesliga, but not at the top level, in which case, maybe it isn’t worth it, and he’s stays with the Union for a while?? The players who stick around MLS tend to be the ones who are not quite good enough for a top European league, and that might be Kai…

    3. There was speculation that the nice deal we got for CJ Sapong was basically a payback for foisting an injured Accam on us (and thereby heading off a complaint to the league and an ugly fight).

    4. While Wooten clearly didn’t contribute this season, it is quite common for players (especially strikers) to take a season or part of one to adjust to the league, and I would hold out some optimism that he might well put it together and make a contribution next season. Remember, his very first touch on the ball as a Union player wound up in the back of the net (and was only disallowed because the ball had gone out of bounds).

    • 1. D’oh, you’re right. Wagner was third with 8 (tied with Ilsinho). Been corrected.

      2. I think it’s possible that Wagner will be flipped this year if they get a good offer. Tanner may conclude that it doesn’t make sense to keep both Real and Wagner — both being young guys who need to play in order to develop value — and, if he gets the right offer, move one of them. I tend to agree that it’s more likely that a move would come next year (or even in the summer).

      4. I don’t think it’s implausible that Wooten can make a difference next season, but I was not encouraged by his play this season. Certainly strikers take time to find their footing!

      • Tab Ramos seemed to love Matt Real with the U-20s. With Beasley retiring in Houston my shot-in-the-dark offseason prediction is that Ramos makes a deal for him as their LB replacement.

  3. O captain my captain crunch is gone says:

    Please sign monteiro!!!!!! Spend some GD $ for once on a proven talent. I work for billionaires and millionaires….. and there is money to made from this league. I can’t say who I work for but my God there is some crazy money in this area. Anyone who knows about Squires GC knows what I mean.

  4. I was curious about Haris and Jack Elliot’s future this off season. Elliot was SO GOOD this past season, I fear he may have a points-costing regression this season… I have come to love him in union blue, but think he might be a “sell high=sell now” situation.

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